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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2018 — No. 10: Young stars land in hot water over old tweets

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We’re a few short days away from 2019 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2018. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

I suppose it was only a matter of time. Time enough for those ballplayers who were young, immature and idiotic in the early days of social media to grow up and into the sort of prominence that might inspire people to look back at their young, immature and idiotic social media posts and show them to the world. That time came for four players this past season.

The first player called on to answer for his old tweets was Brewers reliever Josh Hader. On the same night he gave up four hits and a three-run homer to put the National League in a big hole in the All-Star Game, someone dug up through Hader’s Twitter history and found some ugly, ugly stuff in there, circa 2011-12. Specifically, Hader was found to have used the n-word, liberally, usually while quoting rap lyrics. He said “I hate gay people.” He said some super misogynistic stuff about wanting a woman who will cook and clean for him, among other pretty vile things. There were multiple references to cocaine. He said “I’ll murder your family” to one person and made some total non-sequitur tweet simply saying “KKK.” You name a social media etiquette line that one can cross and Hader not only crossed it, but he totally and gleefully trampled over it.

Soon several others would join Hader in the “oh no, someone found my crappy old tweets!” club. In late July — as he had a no-hitter going against the Dodgers — someone found old tweets from Braves starter Sean Newcomb in which he used offensive language including racist and homophobic slurs. The next day Nationals infielder Trea Turner’s tweets from his college days — primarily involving homophobic slurs — were unearthed. In late August White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech‘s old tweets, rife with casual use of racial slurs, racial stereotypes and, of course, homophobia came to light.

What followed each reveal was pretty much the same. The deletion of said tweets. A cursory apology in which the player claimed “that’s not who I am” while neglecting to actually own up to the fact that that was, at the very least, who he was not so long ago. They then each got league-mandated sensitivity training and participation in diversity initiatives.

Despite how insufficient these apologies were, — all of these guys want credit for who they claim to be in their heart-of-hearts while being absolved of what they actually did — the baseball world, predictably and immediately, moved on. Hader even got a standing ovation from Brewers fans in his first home start back. Something tells me that if Hader were black and, rather than having some bad tweets, he took an unpopular political stance, he would not have been embraced so warmly by the crowd, but I suppose that’s a topic for another day.

In any event, by the time the playoffs came around the Twitter business was largely forgotten. Hader pitched his Brewers into the NLCS and it went mostly unmentioned. As far as I can tell, no assessment of the Braves,’ Nats’ or White Sox’ 2018 seasons or looks ahead to their 2019 seasons has given Newcomb’s, Turner’s or Kopech’s Twitter transgressions the slightest notice and, obviously, it’s not costing these guys any money or negatively impacting their baseball careers in any way. Contrary to what so many who are quick to defend guys like these claim, there were no P.C. lynch mobs or attacks from brigades of social justice warriors impeding their lives or livelihoods in the slightest way. They were all fended off, it seems, by a team-written “I’m sorry if I offended anyone, that’s not who I am” statement.

Whatever the case, one figures that this will be the end of this sort of mini-scandal. I mean, while it was perhaps understandable for Hader to be burned by something old and dumb he once tweeted since it was an unprecedented situation in baseball circles, it’s hard to get your brain around other players’ tweets coming to light. After all, if you’re a public figure like that and you see the sort of heat Hader’s moronic tweets bought him, wouldn’t you simply delete every tweet you ever made? God knows if I was the agent of young players or their general manager I’d tell them to do so. Maybe Newcomb, Turner and Kopech were slow to mash that delete button, but by now you figure everyone else has.

Then again, that takes a little bit of sense, and the sorts of guys who would spew racist and homophobic crap in a public forum already have a lack of that to begin with, right? Maybe a ballplayer who is caught saying racist stuff is being honest when they say “that’s not who I am,” but most of us retain a whole heck of a lot more of our younger selves than we care to admit. Perhaps that whole “I should delete my old tweets” thing has fallen through the cracks for a few players.

Nats’ success shouldn’t be about Bryce Harper

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Bryce Harper turns 27 years old today. As an early birthday present, he got to watch his former team reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history. His new team finished exactly at .500 in fourth place, missing the playoffs. These were facts that did not go unnoticed as the Nationals completed an NLCS sweep of the Cardinals at home last night.

Harper spent seven seasons with the Nationals before hitting free agency and ultimately signing with the Phillies on a 13-million, $330 million contract. The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million contract at the end of the 2018 regular season, but about $100 million of that was deferred until he was 65 which lowered the present-day value of the offer. The Nats’ offer wasn’t even in the same ballpark, really.

Nevertheless, Nationals fans were upset that their prodigy jilted them to go to the Phillies. He was mercilessly booed whenever the Phillies played in D.C. Nats fans’ Harper jerseys were destroyed, or at least taped over.

Harper, of course, was phenomenal with the Nationals. He won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, then won the NL MVP Award several years later with an historically outstanding 1.109 OPS while leading the league with 42 homers and 118 runs scored. Overall, as a National, he had a .900 OPS. Pretty good. He was also productive in the postseason, posting an .801 OPS across 19 games, mostly against playoff teams’ best starters and best relievers. Furthermore, if the Nats had Harper this year, he would have been in right field in lieu of Adam Eaton. Harper out OPS’d Eaton by 90 points and posted 2.5 more WAR in a similar amount of playing time. The Nationals would have been even better if they had Harper this year.

The Nationals lost all four Division Series they appeared in during the Harper era. 3-2 to the Cardinals in 2012, 3-1 to the Giants in ’14, 3-2 to the Dodgers in ’16, and 3-2 to the Cubs in ’17. They finally get over the hump the first year they’re without Harper, that’s the difference, right? I saw the phrase “addition by subtraction” repeatedly last night, referring to Harper and the Nats’ subsequent success without him.

Harper, though, didn’t fork over four runs to the Cardinals in the top of the ninth inning in Game 5 in 2012. He didn’t allow the Dodgers to rally for four runs in the seventh inning of Game 5 in ’16 before ultimately losing 4-3. He didn’t use a gassed Max Scherzer in relief in 2017’s Game 5, when he allowed five of the seven Cubs he faced to reach base, leading to three runs which loomed large in a 9-8 loss. If certain rolls of the dice in those years had gone the Nationals’ way, they would have appeared in the NLCS. They might’ve even been able to win a World Series.

The Nationals saw how that looks this year. It was the opposing manager this time, Dave Roberts, who mismanaged his bullpen. Howie Kendrick then hit a tie-breaking grand slam in the 10th inning off of Joe Kelly to win the NLDS for the Nats. The playoffs are random. Sometimes a ball bounces your way, sometimes an umpire’s call goes your way, and sometimes the opposing manager makes several unforced errors to throw Game 5 in your lap.

Reaching the World Series, then thumbing your nose while sticking out your tongue at Harper feels like a guy tagging his ex-girlfriend on his new wedding photos. It’s time to move on.